Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The announcement of Sven Goran-Eriksson’s exit from the England manager’s job has resulted in a show of sympathy for the FA unprecedented in recent years. Why? More than a few pundits have noted that Sven had forced the FA’s hand into agreeing his departure, that they couldn’t tolerate his antics any more. But you have to wonder why the FA thought it necessary, a couple of years back, to extend his contract by two years and put themselves in a situation in 2006 where they wanted him to leave and have probably had to pay him a few million quid for the privilege.

This, of course, followed his scandalous decision to investigate what job opportunities might exist for him elsewhere. It seems clear from what has transpired this month that the FA frowns upon such activities – or, at least, that it wishes to be seen to frown – which begs the question why they rewarded him for them back then. However much blame one attempts to slough onto Sven’s shoulders, the entire episode has the feel of yet another golden entry into the annals of FA incompetence. It’d almost be funny, if it wasn’t at the centre of a multi-billion pound global industry of which Britain is one of the market leaders. Never mind, I’m sure when they’ve utterly destroyed football for good we’ll be able to look back and have a chuckle.

As for Sven, I still don’t see what he did as a manager that was so wrong. He’s taken England to three major tournaments, topping the qualifying group each time. It’s true that the performances which saw the team knocked out of those tournaments left something to be desired, but against Portugal this was as much because of half-hearted showings by the players, and against Brazil… well, they were Brazil. England had a good chance but Brazil, with ten men, shut up shop very well. Who cares if he experiments in friendlies, except the people who pay extortionate ticket prices to go and watch them (which, again, is surely the FA’s fault)? And as for his off-the-field conduct, it strikes me that he’s been treated as if he’s a politician, which is patently ridiculous. We’re not looking to him for moral leadership, we’re looking to him to advise some men on ways to move a ball around.

In any case, an ad reading ‘Ethically lily-white tactical genius with common touch wanted to fulfil near-impossible expectations and deflect attention away from employers’ howling idiocy’ is going up in job centres as we speak. I firmly believe that there is only one obvious candidate for the England job, and he’s bafflingly rated at a mere 12-1 to get it. Luiz Felipe Scolari is set to leave Portugal after the summer, he’s said he’d be interested in the England job if it was offered and, for Christ’s sake, he’s won the World Cup. What can any current English manager offer in response to that? Most of them haven’t even won the League Cup. The English candidates are all in jobs already, and none of those jobs really prove they could do the England job. I’m sure that if Sam Allardyce were put in charge of Man United he could do very well, but I think he would need that experience before moving on to England. If not Scolari, then I’d go for Martin O’Neill, provided he makes himself available.

But many in the FA want somebody English, probably because they want to curry favour with fans who usually, quite rightly, deride them. And there are plenty of fans who agree, going so far as to suggest former England heroes with no managerial experience whatsoever, such as Alan Shearer or Ian Wright. Please, though, not Steve ‘I’ve got the credentials’ McClaren.

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